By Sasha Barish
Mackenzie glared at Nanette as she forced out her line without feeling. “You’ve always been my best friend. What am I going to do without you.” Stupid. That didn’t even sound like a question. I still can’t believe that Nanette and I have to be “best friends” in the class play, Mackenzie thought, smoothing down her thick brown hair with one hand.
Nanette replied in an equally unbelievable tone. “I guess we’ll just have to write.” Coming from Nanette, who started rumors about Mackenzie and teased her about her braces, that line sounded unreal. More or less, the girls hated each other.
Once, Mackenzie hadn’t minded Nanette. She had hardly known Nanette up until the end of third grade, when the class had helped make an end-of-year dinner for their parents. Nanette had deliberately squirted lime juice in Mackenzie’s face and called it an accident. Being an eight-year-old, Mackenzie had started yelling at Nanette, and one thing just led to another. Over the last four years, the spite had only gotten worse.
“Gather ‘round, come on!” The drama teacher said, motioning. The school’s old theater was a dull room for all the excitement it was home to. Its walls were painted a blackish color, and plain fold-up chairs filled the house.
“We’re out of time, but I wanted to give you some advice really quick.” The kids clustered around the drama teacher, Peter. “As actors,” he said, “We need to get inside our characters and leave behind our everyday selves. Does the audience come to see the actors’ own disagreements? No! Just be the characters.” Mackenzie looked away, sure that Peter was talking to her. “And more acting. We want to build up the story. Work on that before the dress rehearsal. That’s all. You’re dismissed.”
Mackenzie slunk away. She felt torn between the play and her contempt for Nanette. She couldn’t let down Peter, who expected so much of the class; or the audience, all the parents who would surely come. But she couldn’t pretend to be Nanette’s best friend, either! It would seem ironic and feel wrong. Besides; and this part that scared Mackenzie; even if she wanted to, was it possible that she physically couldn’t act like Nanette’s friend for the sake of the play? Mackenzie thought she was a pretty good actress, but this made her unsure. Her mind was going in circles; her feet were going in zigzags that only helped a little in getting Mackenzie to her next class.
“I like your skinny jeans,” Whispered Nanette loudly.
Mackenzie looked up, realizing that her gaze had fixed on the floor. She didn’t say, Thank you, Nanette. She didn’t say, They aren’t skinny jeans. They’re just too small. She just looked hard at Nanette and said, “Oh.”
“New concept,” Nanette said. “Sarcasm.” Mackenzie caught a sneer before Nanette walked away. She sighed and finished walking to class.
During an uneventful science class, the clouds let loose a heavy rain and showed no sign of stopping at lunch time. Mackenzie and her friends Kaylee and Alicia sat in a corner of the gym to eat. The rain poured down endlessly. Mackenzie stood. “I have to use the bathroom.”
“Okay,” replied Kaylee.
Thump, thump, thump, went Mackenzie’s Crocs on the floor of the deserted hallway. She passed the science room, the history room, her homeroom, and the theater. She stopped. The theater. She couldn’t escape from her problem anywhere, and she’d have to make her choice soon. She only had one rehearsal left.
Does the audience come to see the actors’ own disagreements? She remembered Peter saying. This time, Mackenzie really understood why he had told her that, and she made her decision. The play is more important than seeming ironic, Mackenzie realized, Nanette and I can work it out later. For now, I guess we’ll just have to make believe.
Yes! Make believe—wasn’t that the point of acting, anyway? Suddenly, Mackenzie began to formulate a plan. The only problem was that she’d have to involve Nanette, who might not agree. So what? she asked herself.
Mackenzie turned, marched back down the hall, and re-entered the gym. Kids were finishing up their lunches and chatting.
Mackenzie scanned the room, but she didn’t look for her usual friends. Her eyes met Nanette, who was sitting stony-faced under a “Go team!” banner. “Nan—” She started to call Nannette’s name, and stopped. Then Mackenzie took a deep breath and crossed her fingers.
“Hey, Nanette!” Mackenzie called.
Nanette whirled around. “Are you talking to me, Mackenzie? You should come closer.”
Mackenzie nodded, gulped, and walked up to Nanette. “Yeah. I wanted to talk about the play,” she said, “In real life, we might hate each other.”
“Of course,” Said Nanette. “We do. What do you mean, ‘in real life’?”
“Lemme finish, okay? We need to make believe for the play. I was considering what Peter said. We really should work on the best friends thing, because I know he was just talking to us. “Do you have any ideas?”
“Ooh,” Nanette’s face brightened. “Handclap games would show friendship! We could do ‘em in the middle, during the last-day-of-school scene. Do you know any?”
Mackenzie listed a few handclap games, and soon they were chatting about ways to make their acting better. “And it would be fun if we acted really similar. Like, we could use the same sad expression in Scene 2 and look at each other whenever something happens,” Enthused Mackenzie. She glanced out the window. The rain was letting up.
“You know what?” Nanette said. “We might not even have to fake the friendship thing.”